MINNEAPOLIS — It probably should have happened a few starts ago, but based on what he did during the second half of last season and what’s he’s done to start this season, it’s might be time to stop being surprised when Hisashi Iwakuma has a dominant outing.
After all, they are becoming pretty regular for the Mariners’ right-hander.
On Friday, Iwakuma pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings, giving up seven hits, striking out five and walking two to lead the Mariners to a 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
In holding the Twins scoreless, Iwakuma (6-1) lowered his earned run average to 2.13 – second lowest in the American League. In 12 starts, he has thrown 80 1/3 innings, given up 57 hits, struck out 74 and walked just 13 batters.
“He was really good today,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He had a live fastball. He had a lot of life on it at the plate. I thought he pitched up well. He used his (split-finger) down well. He dropped that breaking ball in on occasion. It was nice lead pitch for him, and at times he went to it later in counts. Just an all-around good ballgame for Iwakuma.”
That’s what he has given the Mariners (24-31) all season. It’s why his own teammates won’t say they are surprised by this run of success.
“That’s a tough one because if you say yes, then you’re showing some doubt in him,” shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “We believe in him. With what he’s done in the past, we’re coming to expect this from him. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s a tribute to how good and nasty he is. I’d rather answer it that way because he’s been on an incredible run, and there’s nothing showing it’s going to fade away.”
Iwakuma was not without his brief moments of trouble, though.
In the third inning, he gave up a leadoff double to Chris Parmelee and a one-out single to Pedro Floriman. With runners on the corners, Iwakuma got some help from Ryan. Jamey Carroll hit a ground ball up the middle. Ryan didn’t hesitate, charging the ball, fielding it on the run and throwing a strike to catcher Jesus Sucre to nail Parmelee at the plate.
“You just have to anticipate it getting over (Iwakuma’s) head and then make a decent throw because he was out by a few steps,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to say it was the most difficult play, but I saw it all happen beforehand.”
Iwakuma had runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth and got Carroll to ground out back to the mound. In the seventh, he had runners on the corners and again got Carroll to ground out to end the inning.
“I got into a couple of tough situations, but I was able to make good pitches, execute when I needed to, and that’s what got me out of the jams,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki.
Iwakuma may have a docile exterior, but his competitive side comes through in those situations. Wedge likes to refer to him as a bulldog on the mound.
“He knows how to dig deep when he needs to,” Wedge said. “He understands the game. He’s able to slow the game down when he needs to slow the game down. But when he gets on a roll, he gets in a nice tempo, and we’ve seen a lot of that this year.”
It’s taken a while, but Iwakuma is starting to get national recognition. People are beginning to realize just how well he’s pitching. At this point, he is probably the most deserving Mariner to be named to the American League All-Star team.
The next most deserving All-Star provided the offense for Iwakuma to get the win. First baseman Kendrys Morales broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning, crushing a two-run homer to center field off of Twins starter Mike Pelfrey.
“Kendrys does a great job of giving himself a chance on every pitch and eventually he’s going to get you,” Wedge said. “When he hit that, I didn’t think it was going to go. It just kept going. Like so many times, he’s the one who got us going today.”
Over the last 20 games, Morales has hit safely in 18 and is batting .361 (30-for-83) with nine doubles, five homers and 20 RBI over that time.
Morales isn’t doing anything complicated.
“The pitch was a fastball, and I was actually sitting on a fastball,” Morales said through translator and Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar. “My mindset when I go to the plate is sit on fastball, and if they throw something else I’ll change my approach and change my swing and get to that pitch.”
Morales hit it out to the deepest reaches of Target Field.
“I knew I hit it good,” he said. “I hit it on a line drive, so I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was going to go out, but I was happy to see it go out.”
Seattle tacked on another insurance run in the sixth as Sucre, who isn’t known for his offense, got his second hit of the game – an RBI single to right scoring Raul Ibañez.
“He went down and dug it out,” Wedge said of the pitch. “He’s really working hard. He’s doing a great job for us behind the plate. But he’s really working hard to be a more complete player and try to get something generated with the bat. And he helped us tonight.”